Sunday, April 22, 2007


Last night we wrapped. Although I didn't see the final show, I know it was sold out, and I gather it went extremely well. Monica suffered one final costume malfunction, and that threw her off for the last 15 minutes or so, lending a strange, almost manic energy to the couple's decline and fall. The other actors were excited, in a way, as though that simple mishap had opened up new doors of possibilities which we could have explored, if we'd had another week of shows. As for Monica, I think she was just happy to be done, and to be wearing a 21st century brassiere at last.

The strike was absurdly simple, since we were instructed to leave most of the set in place for a fundraiser next week. So that left lots of time to drink and party. Unfortunately, I was bone tired from ushing at a friend's wedding earlier in the day, so I couldn't stay too late. I managed to hold out for a few hours, though, chatting with various actors and watching them get even goofier than usual as they drank. Each time a cast member would depart for the night, the rest of the team would yell "SALUTO!" and drink to them. When I left (at 3am or so) I got a great big group hug. Nice.

So, that wraps up that show. I don't really feel like doing an autopsy on it right now, partly because it's still fresh, but also because I feel like even though I may not have done everything right to my satisfaction, the show still rocked. Therefore, any critical analysis I do at this late hour would be introspection at best, and self-flagellation at worst. I'm better off accepting that this was a great show, and who cares if it was because of me or in spite of me?

Actually, maybe I can answer that. I don't usually give much credence to reviews, but the reviews of A&C were revealing, because they said what they always say about my Shakespeare productions. They called it fast-paced, poetic, and accessible; and then they slammed it for failing to achieve whatever they consider "authentic Shakespeare" (one reviewer called it "the Coles' Notes version" of the play, and another paradoxically declared "Shakespeare's language is beautiful, bit [it] drowns out Antony & Cleopatra"). In other words, the show lacked the emotional "weight" that contemporary Canadian reviewers associate with Shakespearean tragedy.

This is my perennial weakness, if the critics are to be believed. So I can take the blame for failing to imbue Antony & Cleopatra with tragic "heft" or emotional "weight."

But hold on: does anybody (other than the critics, it appears) really want to endure two hours worth of "heft"? Does anyone enjoy leaving the theatre under five acts' worth of Shakespearean "weight"? Or would they prefer to feel uplifted -- to experience something light but thoroughly accessible? Again, since the reviews always seem to arrive at the same conclusions, I suppose I can take responsibility. I wanted to make this story feel real, to make the "immortal longings" of the two larger-than-life leads into something modern audiences could understand. And I think that's exactly what we ended up with.

So, saluto, my cast; and my wonderful crew, and everyone else who helped to make this show a hit. Saluto, until next time.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Infinite Variety

Tonight was the penultimate show. I came back to see it after being away for nearly a week (the last show I saw was the Sunday matinee). I love coming back this late in the run, to see how many moments have solidified, strengthened, grown. I loved the jaunty bounce in Antony's step as he entered wearing Cleo's robe, and the change that suddenly came over him when he read the scroll that informed him of his wife's death. I loved Eros's flirtations -- how easily he got distracted whenever an Egyptian body part drifted past his periphery. I loved Cleo's struggle to control her tears after Antony has died and Caesar has invaded her monument. I loved the dawning horror with which Iras and Mardias awaited the arrival of "the worm."

And the audience loved it too. I suspect that many of the people there tonight had come with high expectations -- word-of-mouth is a powerful factor at this late point in a run -- and they threw their energy out onto the stage as soon as the lights began to dim. The actors knew what to do with it. It was a rugby game from start to finish. The laughter came freely, generously -- and at all the right times.

It may seem strange to welcome laughter when Antony botches his suicide, or when Agrippa walks in on the final tableau of corpses and says, "How goes it here?" But I think those moments of levity are necessary. They offer much-needed relief for an audience that is suffering along with the characters. Shakespeare knew this was important (consider the Gravedigger in Hamlet, or indeed the Clown/Soothsayer in this play), and I believe he would have approved of the dynamic we've created.

This performance confirmed everything I had hoped for this production. The audience understood, they were engaged and energized, and they were gratified to have been drawn in to so glorious a tale. Not only would Shakespeare have been pleased, but Antony and Cleopatra themselves can look down from their immortal perches and can grace us with applause.

Am I putting myself, or my show, on a pedestal? Perhaps. Just for tonight. Because tomorrow at this time, it will be less than a show. It will go the way of all art in this ephemeral medium ... it will be over.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Run: First Weekend

I've been purposefully distant from the show for the past few days, giving the cast and crew time to gain a sense of ownership for the play. When I stopped in before the run on Saturday night, I could see that ownership was in full swing. The Thursday night show had been lower energy, but from the sounds of things, the Friday show was exciting and instructive for the cast, helping them to understand and clarify moments like never before. They were jazzed about the reportedly large house for Saturday night's run; just before the show, I listened to them shouting out their pre-show mantras, and I was delighted to hear "Go Big or Go Home" in there, but even more pleased to hear a lot of stuff that they generated for themselves. As it should be.

After the run, spirits were mixed. I had told them that this show was being videorecorded, and I think that made a few of them anxious. Besides, they said, the energy was ... odd. Moments happened differently, they said (different than what? The night before? Different than ever before?). That, plus a minor costume malfunction that may have gotten a bit exaggerated in the reporting, made some of the actors feel, I think, as though they'd passed their peak.

But they haven't. They're just exhausted, having been running the show non-stop since Monday night. Today's matinee will be a struggle to get through, I expect; but then they'll have a dark day, finally, and the climb will begin again. By next weekend, I predict new heights, new delights, and, yes, lots of different moments again -- but hopefully they'll be embraced, not feared.

There were two reviews printed yesterday, in the Journal and the Sun. I can't stand reviews, and I feel particularly resentful of the sorts of equivocating write-ups that we seem to get in community theatre. They're not willing to admit that there was anything outstanding about a show, but they can't bring themselves to slam it either (since they're "amateurs," they don't know any better, it would break their little hearts, etc.). But perhaps the cast won't see them, or they won't read into them the same faint-praise tactics that I detect.

In any case, it's the word of mouth that's gonna sell this show.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Opening Night

Wow. Just wow. I must confess, after the sputtering starts of the first two previews, I was not expecting the show to click into gear so quickly, so thoroughly. After the performance, I intercepted several actors grousing about very minor things that went wrong -- mostly line glitches here and there. But that's what actors do; they focus on the things that went wrong, and somehow fail to miss the vast tapestry of things that went right.

So, what went right? Well, tech, for one thing. I didn't catch a single late cue. And the show's pace was amazing; transitions were sharp and tight, and energy rarely flagged within the scenes themselves. I did not hear much shuffling from the audience, even towards the end of the 2 hour running time. The ASMs got all the actors stuffed into their costumes, and all the props in their hands. And when the whip broke onstage (very thoughtfully waiting until the last moment of the last scene in which it's used), the actors grinned, went with it, and then worked together to cover it over.

But these are all the technical things. What went right in Shakespeare-land? It's difficult to quantify, but what I found was that the words and the movements always had meaning, specificity; and that the meanings were clearly and cleanly connected to the energy onstage; and that the energy was shared, it was collective, it got passed back and forth fluidly, like the rugby ball that Kieran brings to warm-ups.

You can do Shakespeare with meaning, but no energy. And you can definitely do Shakespeare with lots of energy, but very little meaning. But the pairing of the two is rare; and to have it continue throughout an entire show -- especially one with this many transitions, shifts, ups and downs -- is truly extraordinary. Considering the sheer volume of words and shapes this cast has to deliver, the fact that everything felt clear and meaningful? Miraculous.

Now, I'm not the best judge of clarity of meaning, since I've been living with the play for many months. But the feedback and the impressions that I got from the audience supported my feelings about the show. I can always tell when an audience feels delightfully surprised that they actually understood Shakespeare. They feel like they've been introduced to a whole new world of possibilities. And so they have.

So, wow. I'm hyped. I expect the energy will flag tonight -- it always does -- but by the weekend, and certainly towards the end of the run, it will be back, and probably bigger than ever. The actors will surprise themselves by going places verbally and physically that they didn't think themselves capable of. And word of mouth (not to mention the lovely spread in the Edmonton Journal yesterday) will help bring in great big audiences to share the magic.

There are aspects of this process that I'm already second-guessing. But when the product comes out looking and sounding this good, it's hard not to rest on your laurels for a bit. So that is what I'll do.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Two previews have come and gone. Monday night was a small house, mostly friends of the cast; there were quite a few dropped lines, but the energy was strong, especially in Act Two. The actors know their stuff: they're comfortable with the script, the set, their costumes, and each other; but the presence of an audience is just enough of a variable to throw you off. But that's what previews are for.

Tuesday night is the "artist's preview" -- each show, we do an Art in the Lobby display, and the artist invites friends and family to see the art, and the play. They're usually very enthusiastic, if for no other reason than because they're getting to see a show for free. This group was a bit dead, although there were definitely one or two Shakespeare aficionadoes (you could hear them laughing at the bawdy puns).

Yet, despite the cold-fish feel that I got from the house, the actors hit their stride. Cues were tight, energy was high, and it was clear that everyone on stage was having fun -- which is actually pretty remarkable, considering it's only their second night before a crowd.

I realized tonight that I'm really pleased with how effortlessly this diverse group became an ensemble. I don't give myself enough credit to assume that I was in any way responsible. No, it's just one of those things that either happens, or doesn't; this time, even though the cast was split up for much of the rehearsal process, they found ways to connect, to work and play together onstage and off. For a show like this one, it's vital; it gives everyone the confidence they need to push themselves in new directions.

Now, I can only hope that pushing continues throughout the run. My job is pretty much done...but these guys and gals have lots of time left to play.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Tech Dress...And Away We Go!

Like it or not, it's out of my hands.

And I do like it. I liked an awful lot of what I saw during Saturday's tech dress. The actors adapted quickly to their costumes, and to the lights and sound (even though there were still tweaks and adjustments going on with the latter two). They put all petty frustrations and anxieties, and went for the gusto. I saw glimpses of moments and energy in some scenes that I hadn't seen since the early days of scene work, lo those many weeks ago. The fact that they did this without any kind of pre-run pep talk from me stands as testament to the fact that they don't need a director hovering over them any more.

So that's a relief. There were other, mostly minor, frustrations during the run. The slide projections (part of the reason why we constructed our entire set around a big, blank sheet of canvas) didn't arrive until intermission -- and, even then, not everything we needed was in place. And Antony's "bloodied" tunic was white as snow.

But these are minor, minor things -- the sorts of oversights that only directors would even pick up on, much less gripe about. The fact is, Antony & Cleopatra has everything it needs to wow an audience: snazzy costumes, a bold soundtrack, a colourful, soaring set -- and a huge cast full of energetic, committed, hard-working actors, whose clear, articulate delivery carries both the poetry and the tragedy across without a hitch. It's an exciting show, because the play itself is done so rarely, and because, let's face it, nobody expects a show this big to get done this well by a community theatre.

But it's great. We've pulled it off. And now, all we need is that aforementioned audience to wow.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Dress Run

Confession time. I love actors, really I do; I love watching them explore and test out a role, make discoveries, and finally dive in and make a character their own. I also love watching them get so wrapped up in their process that they forget about everything else around them. Non-industry observers would mistake this for egomania, but in most cases, it's just attention to detail.

But I also enjoy the foibles of actors, particularly their relationships to other parts of the theatrical process. They crave anything and everything that will help them to define their characters; yet they are uncomfortable with those parts of the process over which they have no control -- and, if you're an actor, you know there are a lot of them. As a result, they end up loving and hating all the stuff that's going on around them: the set, the lights, the sound, and so forth.

Nothing illustrates this more than costumes. Right from the start, actors ask me, "What will our costumes be like?" Sometimes these questions relate to very practical concerns (ie. Will I be able to see/move/fight/dance easily?), and once in a while, it's a matter of vanity (although I don't detect a lot of divas in this cast). But usually, I think that actors' curiosity about attire stems from the connection between costume and character. Some actors feel like they can't really embrace their characters until they see themselves in costume.

Consequently, actors await the first dress rehearsal with bated breath. Because it comes so late in the rehearsal process, there's a lot of excitement built up around it. In some cases, they convince themselves that, as soon as they slip on that dress/tunic/breastplate/hat, they will magically unlock all the secret parts of their character, and their performance will achieve escape velocity, and head for the stars.

In reality, the opposite is true. The first dress rehearsal is usually the most awkward, uncertain, stumbly of all the tech-week run-throughs. Some of the stumbling is literal, of course (ie. How come my dress is so damn long?), but it's psychological as well. Actors who expect a miraculous transformation are disheartened to discover that their costumes feel not liberating but, well, weird. After all, they aren't designed to feel great; only to look great. And the actors aren't in the audience, so they can't see how good they look.

And they do look good. Melissa has done a fabulous job, not only with the leads, but also with the soldiers, the Egyptian women, and even walk-on characters like banquet servants. But I had to smile, watching the Romans and Egyptians recede into the background, replaced by a stage full of slightly bewildered actors. By Saturday, they'll be comfortable, and the energy and characterization will return. They might even find ways to use the costumes after all.

But, just like there are no easy solutions to directing, there are no short-cuts to characterization. The costumes don't sell the show; they're just the wrapping paper, to decorate the presents underneath. Ditto the set, lights, sound, props. By Saturday's run, the ball will be back in the cast's court. Go big or go home.